John Francis: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. You: ??

18 09 2011

Your environmental footprint. Ever think about it? Care at all about the earth and your  contribution to keeping it healthy and vibrant? John Francis is an environmentalist and author of two books: Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. and The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World.

John Francis – Credit: Art Rogers, Pt. Reyes

In 1971, he was living in the San Francisco area and witnessed a devastating oil spill in the Bay. He decided to lessen his own demand for oil by giving up riding in motor vehicles, which he did from 1972 to 1994. In 1973 he also decided to be silent and didn’t speak again until 1990.

He walked across the country (and across South America) during his years of silence, getting first an undergraduate degree, then a Masters, and culminating in a Ph.D. in land management with a focus on oil spills.

Everywhere he went, playing the banjo in towns to earn money, people were drawn to this silent ambassador for the environment. He learned what it was to really listen to people instead of constantly waiting for them to stop talking so he could say something. Today, John is married, the father of two children, founder and director of the nonprofit environmental education organization Planetwalk, and a National Geographic Society Education Fellow.

I just finished reading both of his books. I find this man really inspirational…to take such drastic measures because you care about the environment. So what are you doing to reduce your impact on the environment? Anything at all? Consider these facts from About.com:

  • “According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. This means that ten times the amount of carbon dioxide is emitted as well.
  • A report in the New Scientist estimated that driving a hybrid car rather than an average vehicle would conserve a little over one ton of carbon dioxide per year. A vegan diet, however, consumes one and a half tons less than the average American diet. Adopting a vegan diet actually does more to reduce emissions than driving a hybrid car!”

There is a big movement to encourage people to not eat meat on Mondays (it could be any day) to help reduce their impact on the earth. The website meatlessmonday.com provides this information:

  • “REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide . . . far more than transportation. And annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow. Reining in meat consumption once a week can help slow this trend.
  • MINIMIZE WATER USAGE. The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.
  • HELP REDUCE FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCE. On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.”

MSN Autos says that 41% of your ecological impact on the earth is due to driving a car. They say that estimates attribute 77 percent of a car’s footprint to the CO2 released from burning gasoline. And statistics show that 40% of trips people make in cars are a distance of two miles or less. What if they just walked or rode a bike instead?

There are many other things you can do to reduce your negative impact on the environment. I sold my car almost two years ago and I walk or take public transportation. I wrote a blog post about this called A Year of Living Carless, which was featured on the front page of WordPress. I have been a vegetarian for almost a year. I take cloth bags to the grocery store (which I walk to) instead of using paper or plastic bags. The walking and eating vegetarian have health benefits, too.

So what are you doing? You don’t have to give up riding in cars for 22 years or stop talking for 17 years to make an impact. Eating one meal a week vegetarian or walking or riding your bike instead of taking the car even one time help. I haven’t owned a car since December, 2009 and eat vegetarian (with a rare piece of fish).

As John Francis says, “How we treat each other is how we treat the environment.” Are you treating your neighbors and mother earth well with your habits?

Here is John talking about his journey in a TED talk:






A Lesson after 9/11: Compassion

11 09 2011

At the software company I worked for, we watched in horror after the first tower was struck. With my co-workers, we watched as a plane drove into the second tower. We were in shock as was the entire nation. We were glued to the television…waiting for information. We saw people jump from the towers to their deaths and knew that many more had died as the towers crumbled to the ground. We saw the look of sheer terror on the faces of those present and running from the towers. It was an apocalyptic event being broadcast live as we watched.

To make it even more surreal, my manager at the time kept crossing through the lobby and glaring at me as if to say “Why are you wasting your time watching television?” My peers were all there watching. Something monumental was happening. We needed time to witness and attempt to cope with what we were seeing. Feeling the pressure from this demanding boss, I was one of the first to pull away and go back to my desk and it was incredibly difficult to focus and do technical marketing work. It was corporate America saying “You’re not human. Don’t feel. Just do your work…no matter what else is going on.” It was the birthday of one of my co-workers, but definitely not a day to celebrate.

Credit: TellingNicholas.com

Today, 10 years later, I am still disturbed by that glare. It’s one of the reasons I choose to work for myself. Yes, there are business demands and the software business is incredibly demanding. But people are not robots. Bad things happen and we have feelings. We need time and space to witness, to grieve, and to recover.

I just watched another one of HBO’s incredible documentaries. This one is called “Telling Nicholas” and first aired on May 19, 2002. Created by director/producer/writer James Ronald Whitney, it also won an Emmy.

It tells the story of how the mother of 7-year-old Nicholas died in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 and how the family struggled to accept that she is not coming back and is indeed dead. They also struggled with how to tell Nicholas. It his heart wrenching and I cried throughout most of the movie. The family is very sensitive to and protective of this little boy’s feelings.

I’m not a 7-year-old boy and I didn’t lose my mommy or anyone on 9/11. Still, we all grieve that day and the loss of innocence, security, and safety we had up until then. We grieve the loss of so many people who were doing nothing but living their lives and working and being mommies and daddies and brothers and sisters and children.

If 9/11 has had any positive impact, hopefully it has taught us to appreciate the freedom we have, to value life, to be grateful for the love of others, and to never take even one day of our lives for granted. And to stop the glares. We all need time to process when things happen…even if we’re at work…and we all need to practice and feel compassion.





Zappos: Delivering Shoes, Profits, and Happiness

31 07 2011

I’ve done it. You probably have too…bought a pair of shoes from Zappos.com. In 1999 buying a pair of shoes online seemed like a C-RAZY idea. Really? Internet entrepreneur Tony Hsieh and a few of his friends (and to-be colleagues), thought it would work, came up with the name Zappos, and started forming the company. Ten years later Amazon bought Zappos “in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion on the day of closing,” per Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in his excellent book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Just how do you go from zero to over $1 billion in annual gross merchandise sales…and of SHOES (not big ticket items)…in just ten years?

Tony’s journey was not for the lazy, weak-willed, doubting, or uncommitted. Many times the company came to the brink of collapse and he kept it afloat by infusing it with some of the considerable money he got from the sale of his previous company…banner ad network LinkExchange…when it was sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million. And as that money ran out, he sold his own personal real estate.

Tony and his colleagues made the decision in 2003 to make the Zappos brand be about the very best customer service possible. This meant some big, bold decisions like carrying their own inventory so they could ship shoes faster and more accurately. They decided not to outsource customer service overseas, even though that would’ve been cheaper, and they relocated their headquarters to Las Vegas. Tony emailed all employees in 2004 to ask them to contribute 100-500 words about what the Zappos culture meant to them and since then, every year a new Zappos Culture Book is produced, which is given to prospective employees, vendors, and customers. They encouraged employees to anonymously submit questions and the answers are posted in their monthly employee newsletter Ask Anything.

Oh…and they got a $100 million credit line from Wells Fargo and two other banks. All of these changes meant they went from the brink of collapse to $1 billion in gross sales in 2008…two years ahead of their original (and seemingly impossible) goal of 2010.

Zappos succeeds by delivering happiness…to employees, vendors, and customers. They offer free shipping both ways…if a pair of shoes doesn’t fit or you don’t like it, ship it back for free. And oh, by the way, you have 365 days to return them. Their call center and warehouse are staffed and running 24 hours a day every day. Sometimes they surprise (i.e., delight) customers and ship shoes overnight (sometimes 8 hours after they order them) at no charge. I’ve actually experienced this…so cool!

The company culture and the brand are intertwined…one feeds the other and leads to a lot of really happy people. They are thoroughly committed to the ten company core values:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

The Zappos mission became “To live and deliver WOW.” As a result of these values, the WOW mission, and the incredible results that Zappos was achieving, Tony Hsieh started to be in demand as a speaker. In 2007 he started studying the science of happiness. He found that happiness is evolutionary.

Tony Hsieh - Credit: DeliveringHappiness.com

The lowest level of happiness is all about chasing pleasure. The more evolved level of happiness is passion, which comes through flow and engagement. And the most evolved type of happiness is higher purpose, which is about being part of something bigger than yourself. The Zappos mission evolved to “Zappos is about delivering happiness to the world.

Tony wrote the Delivering Happiness book in 2009. It debuted in 2010 at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and stayed on that list for 27 consecutive weeks. There is now a Delivering Happiness movement, with information at www.deliveringhappiness.com. A Delivering Happiness bus has toured the nation and the CEO of Delivering Happiness Jenn Lim is also called the Chief Happiness Officer. In January 2010, a couple of months after the deal with Amazon closed, Zappos was ranked #15 in Fortune magazine’s annual “Best Companies to Work For” list.

Tony Shieh in action is an incredible example of conscious capitalism, which seeks to enhance corporate profits and also (and perhaps through the) advance the quality of life for people. He leaves you with these thoughts, which are his guiding principles in life:

What would happen if everyone in the world acted in the same way? What would the world look like? What would the net effect be on the overall happiness in the world?

He challenges us all to choose to “…be a part of a movement to help make the world a happier and better place.” WILL YOU MAKE THAT CHOICE?



Here’s Tony talking about his journey:





Hip-Hop, Yoga, and Being Super Rich

30 07 2011

Think of the “godfather of hip-hop” Russell Simmons and you definitely think RICH. He founded the music label Def Jam as well as clothing lines such as Phat Farm and American Classics. With a net worth estimate of $340 million, he is the third richest figure in hip-hop, only behind artists Diddy and Jay-Z. But do you also think of yoga and spirituality when you think of Russell Simmons?

Simmons is the author (along with Chris Morrow) of Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All. His business website www.rushcommunications.com relates his many business successes, which “have spanned music, film, television, fashion, video games, online and financial services” and his activism, which “has encompassed all of the areas touched by his businesses, including poverty, education, social justice and inclusion.”

It’s easy to daydream about being incredibly rich, but Simmons is more than just about having a lot of money. He grew up in a lower-middle class African-American community in Queens and recently was named one of the 25 most influential people of the last 25 years by USA Today. He has two beautiful daughters he adores (and a beautiful, well-known, and accomplished ex-wife Kimora Lee Simmons). Not only does he practice yoga, meditation, and philanthropy, he also eats no meat. He believes that there is a connection between his spiritual practices and his worldly success.

The title of his book Super Rich might make you think it’s all about accumulating money, but to Simmons that term means “the state of needing nothing.” That’s powerful! THE STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING. Imagine being in that state. Surely, you’d feel super rich. But how do you achieve that state? Simmons says that we have to “clear out the clutter and quiet the noise” that keeps us from “hearing” or connecting with the happiness…or the richness…that is already inside of us.

He says that we attract the world to us by giving until the world can’t live without what you have to offer. Huh? To get rich, you just give away what you have? YES! He quotes yogis: “You never lose what you have given” and says that if you “just show the world a fraction of the sweetness and honesty that’s in your heart, it’s going to come running after you.”

What else can you do to attain the STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING?

  • Access stillness…that “quiet, peaceful mental state that allows you to be completely present in life.” Then you can become “totally connected with the inspiration and imagination that’s inside [you].”
  • “Stay focused on your work without any expectations for, or concern with, the fruit of your labor” and “operate out of a zone of pure focus and clarity” like Michael Jordan did on the basketball court.
  • Be a business yogi and “only do shit you believe in. Period!” Vegan Simmons, for example, says he would never invest in a restaurant that serves meat. If you are a yogi, you won’t do work that creates instability or suffering in the world. Let go of the results…and watch what happens!
  • “Be reborn every day.” Simmons went from being a drug dealer to a mega-rich businessman, yogi, author (he previously penned the New York Times best seller Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success), and humanitarian. How did he do that? He “began moving away from [his] unconscious state and toward enlightenment.” He says it is important to “get open”…to be fluid and creative and never rigid.
  • Build bridges…with people of other races, religions, beliefs, etc…that will bring people together. Recognize that we are all connected.
  • Practice and realize the power of acceptance and love of others and what is.
  • Enjoy and be grateful for the material things, but don’t become burdened by or attached to what you have. Instead, achieve balance in life.
  • “Make a real commitment to being conscious and compassionate.”  He quotes the story of the Bhagavad Gita and Arjuna’s final words to Lord Krishna: “Through your kind conversation, I’ve woken up and am conscious of who I really am.” Simmons says that even if you fall short in all the above things, if you are conscious and compassionate, you will…like Arjuna…become more awake, which is “central to all your success.”

Simmons says that, armed with the knowledge in the book, we can be like Arjuna and:

To fight not for what you can get for yourself, but what you can give to others.

To fight not for your own abundance, but for the abundance of others.

To fight not for your own security, but for the peace and safety of others.

To fight not for your own joy, but for the happiness of others.

To fight not for your own upliftment, but for the enlightenment of others.

Russell Simmons, hip-hop, fashion, and multi-business mogul, yogi, father, UN Goodwill Ambassador, vegan, and philanthropist, ends the book by saying:

When you are devoted to fighting for these things with a smile on your face and love radiating out of your heart, then all these things will be yours. You will have it all. You will be Super Rich.

How refreshing to see someone who truly is super rich in every way practice what he says. Thanks, Russell Simmons.

NOTE: This post also appears at http://project-prosperity.com/2011/07/30/hip-hop-yoga-and-being-super-rich.




Enchant Me(nt)

30 07 2011

Do you enchant others…in your personal life and through your work? Have you ever considered the value of enchantment? Guy Kawasaki, author of the book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions,” says that

“When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight.”

Delight? How often do you come away from personal or business interactions feeling delighted? How often do you delight others? Kawasaki, former Apple evangelist and CEO of other companies, Silicon Valley venture capitalist, founder of Alltop.com, and the author of nine other books including “The Macintosh Way” (which was required reading when I was a software product manager several years ago), says that enchantment is absolutely necessary when we want to:

  • “Convince people to dream the same dream that [we] do.” To do this, we have to “aspire to lofty, idealistic results.”
  • Effect huge change
  • “Overcome entrenched habits”
  • “Defy a crowd” and create our own path…and get others to join us
  • “Proceed despite delayed or nonexistent feedback”

Kawaski gives concrete and specific advice on how to be enchanting in the book, with chapters entitled:

  • How to Achieve Likability
  • How to Achieve Trustworthiness
  • How to Prepare
  • How to Launch
  • How to Overcome Resistance
  • How to Make Enchantment Endure
  • How to Use Push Technology
  • How to Use Pull Technology
  • How to Enchant Your Employees
  • How to Enchant Your Boss
  • How to Resist Enchantment

Although “Enchantment” is primarily geared toward business, the principles are equally applicable to how to be personally enchanting. Kawasaki has mastered the art of enchantment. He is prolific on Twitter and posts about an incredibly wide array of topics. For someone so revered in the often nerdy high-tech world, he is personally charming, accessible, and humble.

His advice for how to achieve likability include things like finding out what the other person’s passions are; in other words, do your homework. Do they like to travel? Do they have kids? Do they enjoy fine wine? What’s their favorite sports team? Find out and meet them at that place of commonality. You will instantly enchant the other person if you care enough to do that.

The book gives many examples of businesses that enchant and how they enchant their customers. An example is REI, which was started in 1938 by 22 friends and now 3.7 million customers shop at 100 REI stores (and online.) People go there to shop, but also to socialize with other active people and to get advice from experienced cyclists, campers, or mountain climbers. Kawasaki says that the goal of enchantment is “long-lasting change,” which is “what happens when you change hearts, minds, and actions.” REI has built community and this community of enchanted customers is loyal and enduring.

“Enchantment” is an easy read and is filled with practical and enchanting tips. It’s worth a read and to keep on your bookshelf as a reference book (think new product introductions, starting a new venture, or captivating and signing a new customer). Want to keep abreast of what enchants the ubiquitous Guy Kawasaki? Join him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/enchantment or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/Alltop.

NOTES:
  • The photos of Guy Kawasaki and the cover of “Enchantment” are printed with the permission of Guy Kawaski. The REI logo is from the REI.com website.
  • This blog is featured on Alltop.com, which was founded by Guy Kawaski. As one of the featured bloggers on Alltop, I was asked if I’d like to receive a complimentary copy of “Enchantment.” It was my choice whether to review it and what to say about it.




I Walked a 50K (31 Miles)

19 07 2011

On July 9, 2011 I walked a 12-hour race and completed 50K. That’s THIRTY-ONE MILES. I set some really bodacious goals at the start of the year. Walking a 12-hour race and completing a 50K (31 miles) was one of them. I had no idea at the time if I could even go 6 hours, but decided at least it was a good goal.

I decided to go for it and set a very aggressive training schedule. I stuck to it except for dealing with some setbacks along the way…lingering arm pain from a hard fall, an unexpected trip out of town, getting sick, and some foot pain that laid me up awhile. I wasn’t a beginning walker when I started. I sold my car when I moved out to the San Francisco Bay area so I walk everywhere and was already doing some long walks. [NOTE: See my blog post A Year of Living Carless, which is featured today on the home page of WordPress.]

My training started very aggressively the week of April 25 when I walked 27 miles with my longest walk being 10 miles. Because I was behind in training, I had to quickly ramp up. A month later, I walked 21.5 miles as my long walk. Three weeks after that I walked a marathon. And three weeks after that was the race. The last few weeks I walked loops very similar to the 3.1 loop in the actual race with 200 feet elevation gain every loop.

I did a lot of research about how to prepare for and walk a 12-hour race. To say I was nervous about it is an understatement. I did way too much carbo loading, put on weight leading up to the race, and had to order a new wicking shirt a few days before the race. I got a smartphone around this time and loaded tons of music on it, had extra batteries, and bought an extra headset. I bought a running hat, trained with the kind of food and sports drink at the race, and took good care of my feet (lots of soaks in Epsom salts, petroleum jelly, Tom’s Blister Shield foot powder, and taping my feet in blister-prone areas). With the help of  Facebook friends, I came up with an athletic alter ego to motivate me during the race: DIANAMO KICKASS SISTA DISTANCE. I tapered my walking down to almost nothing and now the BIG DAY HAD ARRIVED. GULP.

RACE DAY – 7/9/11 – BRAZEN RACING DIRTY DOZEN RACE STARTS AT 7:00 A.M. AT PINOLE POINT, EAST BAY

Up at 4:10 a.m. Breakfast of peanut butter sandwich and an apple, a cup of coffee, and 20 ounces of water. Watching a little TV to relax while I ate. Got dressed. Prepared my feet. Gathered stuff in my bag. Walked my dog. Picked up at 6:10 by my son-in-law and 22-month-old grandson, who took my daughter Val and me to the race.

I had just a few minutes to pin my bib (#2) on my shorts, sign the waiver, get my headset, thread my timing chip through my shoe laces, pee, get my water bottle, and get lined up for the start.Val did this race last year and was excited and cool; I was NERVOUS. There were runners lined up to do a 6-hour race along with us brave souls planning to do the 12-hour race. And we’re off!

It was a cool, overcast morning…perfect for running (or in my case, walking). We ran parallel to the Bay for much of the race and braved the 20-30 mph gusting winds throughout the race, which had me chasing my hat several times later in the race when the sun came out. Since I was walking, everyone else raced ahead of me and I took a wrong turn at one point and had to backtrack. I felt much more confident after I got through the first loop and knew the course.

My first headset gave out after only 1.5 hours (charging issues) so I just listened to the natural sounds until I completed four loops. I grabbed the second headset then and fiddled with it for about 15 minutes. I never got it to synch (I use a Bluetooth headset)…turns out I needed to hold down the button a couple of more seconds…aargh. I did another loop and tried again for another 15 minutes (tick, tick, tick…time’s a wasting!). No luck. So I had NO music for the rest of the race…tough because music takes your mind off the pain and the distance.

At 11 a.m., noon, 5:00, and 6:00 there 5K (3.1 miles) and 10K (6.2 miles) races going on the track. Those people looked fresh and were fast, average, and some were novices and just happy to be running/walking a race. After 1:00, the 6-hour racers were done (and eating barbecue back at the start/finish) and the course thinned out a lot. That’s when you knew the really hard-core people were left and I got a lot of “GOOD JOB!” kudos from other racers who sailed past me.

I saw my daughter Val out on the race every two laps and she came up and hugged me, told me how great her race was going, and we got our photo taken together by one of the volunteer photographers once out on the course. It was so much fun doing the race with her and helped me keep going, even when I wanted to stop after four laps due to foot pain, tiredness, and heaviness in my legs.

I stopped every lap to pee and grabbed food and sports drink at the start/finish and mid-course…GU gel, cut up peanut butter/jelly sandwiches, peanut butter and bagel, Payday candy bars, chips, and Peanut M&Ms. I had very short conversations with the encouraging volunteers and I’d be off again to do another lap. Toward the end I doubled what I ate and drank when my energy really started sagging on loop 8 and that gave me the energy to finish the last two loops much faster.

The last mile was LONG and I got tearful thinking about what I was achieving. I had the time to do a shortened lap, but I was happy with just reaching my goal. 31 MILES. When I crossed the finish line, my arms went up in the air and I yelled out “YES!!!!” It was 6:34:37 P.M. I had walked nearly 12 hours. I DID IT!!! I put on my jacket, got my medal, and watched my daughter finish a few minutes later. She RAN 55.8 miles (her longest ever) and finished SECOND of all the women. WOW!

In an incredibly well-run event (thanks, Sam!), the first place guy ran 74.5 miles. First place gal ran 62.7 miles. I walked 31 miles.

Me with other 12-hour finishers

At 58 years old, I was the oldest female to compete in the 12-hour race. (And oh by the way, I am a PLUS SIZE woman.) I’m proud of what I did. REAL PROUD. And my name is going to be published in “Ultrarunning” magazine as having completed an ultramarathon!

Twenty minutes after I finished, I started getting dizzy and nauseous and thought I was going to pass out and/or throw up. It quickly passed. And yes, I was stiff for a few days afterward (no muscle pain though) and have been nursing some amazing looking blisters on my feet and that nagging foot pain.

But when a friend asked me if it was all worth it and would I do it again, the answer is absolutely YES. Dianamo Kickass Sista Distance, you go girl!

UPDATE: In October 2011, I walked the Portland Marathon (26.2 miles) in 8 hours and 42 seconds. This time I felt great at the finish. I also walked the Portland Marathon in October, 2012 in 7 hours and 38 minutes and felt great again!





Healing the Tiger…in Egypt and in Each of Us

30 01 2011

COMPELLING. CAPTIVATING. We CONNECT with the drama unfolding in Eqypt. Why? In the U.S., we sit in our cozy homes and have the freedom to make a living (although many of us are admittedly struggling with that right now), the freedom to make decisions about our lives, and the freedom to speak our minds. We complain that the government is too big or not doing enough and yet our government has checks and balances with the three branches of government; no one person can dictate entirely what happens in the country and no one person can rob the country and the people in it of funds and assets. We are blessed and we so often take it for granted.

We are riveted to the stories of those who don’t have the freedoms we have…people like those protesting in the streets of Eqypt. Perhaps we are trying to imagine what it must be like to have lived 30 years under an oppressive regime. Perhaps we are stunned to see the police so powerless and the army for the most part just standing by, supporting the people, and allowing them to protest. Perhaps we are also stunned that a few people who take to the streets to protest would be gunned down and that the Internet and cell phone service would be shut down for an entire country. This would not happen here. No one person has that much power.

The country and people of Egypt seem to be suffering from societal trauma. Dr. Peter A. Levine, author of “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma,” says that:

Citizens in our inner cities randomly destroy property and life as the effects of years of accumulated stress, trauma, hostility, and economic oppression combust.

Credit: Dominic Harness

Dr. Levine talks of how an animal in the wild handles being attacked by another animal. It can fight back, flee, or freeze (play dead) until the attacking animal loses interest and then run away. The last option of freezing is what happens to people when their options are taken from them.

Unfortunately, human beings…unlike a tiger in the wild…don’t know how to shake off the trauma physically after freezing and we wind up internalizing the trauma sometimes for decades. Perhaps the traumatized part in each of us (for whatever reason…child abuse, a surgery, an accident, a divorce, a job loss, losing our home, the loss of a child, returning from war, etc.) connects with the people of Eqypt. They are acting out the effects of decades of trauma and woundedness and we get it.

Dr. Levine says that:

Trauma cannot be ignored. It is an inherent part of the primitive biology that brought us here. The only way we will be able to release ourselves, individually and collectively, from re-enacting our traumatic legacies is by transforming them through renegotiation.

He goes on to say that:

Transformation requires a willingness to challenge your basic beliefs about who you are. Through transformation, the nervous system regains its capacity for self-regulation. Our emotions begin to lift us up rather than bring us down. They propel us into the exhilarating ability to soar and fly, giving us a more complete view of our place in nature. Our perceptions broaden to encompass a receptivity and acceptance of what is, without judgment. We are able to learn from our life experiences. Without trying to forgive, we understand that there is no blame. We often obtain a surer sense of self while become more resilient and spontaneous. This new self-assuredness allows us to relax, enjoy, and live life more fully. We become more in tune with the passion and ecstatic dimensions of life.

Perhaps this is happening with the people in Egypt; they seem to be feeling more confident and more hopeful and are transforming as a people. We are watching history in the making, unfolding before our eyes. We see the possibility of what happens when people unite in a common cause to help lift each other and a nation up. It gives us hope as individuals that we can lift ourselves up out of our own personal traumas and transform our own personal and collective lives.





A Year of Living Carless

5 01 2011

Have you ever thought of giving up your car? Does the thought make you break out in a cold sweat? Does it sound impossible? It’s not. I’ve managed for over a year now without a car. I must admit that when I first thought of selling my car and going without one, I felt fearful.

I was living in Austin, Texas…a really hard place to get around without a car. I made the decision to move out to the Berkeley/Albany area (East Bay) in San Francisco to live near one of my daughters and baby grandson. They moved out here and have gone carless. I saw that it was possible and decided to give it a try. It certainly simplified my move. I just put all my stuff in a 16-foot truck and drove it out here (okay, that wasn’t simple…that was scary and long and challenging) and didn’t have to worry about how to get a vehicle out here too.

So how DO you go without a car? How does that work?

  • You do a lot of walking. I walk to see my daughter. I walk to the YMCA (gym) to work out. I walk to the grocery store…and yes, I carry groceries home (just not $150 worth at a time…more like $15 or $20 worth). If I want to do anything, I start out walking.
  • Sometimes…though rarely…I take the bus. If I do, I walk to the bus stop.

    Credit: “The Carless Generation” article on http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com

  • More often, I’ll take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit…light rail system) if I want to go downtown San Francisco or other places too far to walk to. Of course, I walk the mile to the BART station and the mile home from the BART station.
  • On very rare occasions I’ve gone places in a car with a friend (still making those out here).
  • I’ve taken a taxi once when I came back from a trip later than expected and didn’t want to lug my luggage the mile to my house late at night.
  • And of course I could always rent a car, but in the 12.5 months I’ve lived here, I haven’t yet rented a car. If I did, I’d walk to the car rental place.
  • To repeat the first point…you do a lot of walking…and that’s a good thing!

What have been the benefits of going without a car for over a year?

  • I’ve lost weight! Remember all that walking? It pays off!
  • I’ve gained stamina and strength…not only from the walking, but carrying groceries or whatever.
  • I don’t have to pay for gas, car insurance, car maintenance, parking, car washes, or anything to do with a car. I’ve avoided spending a LOT of money.
  • I was able to sell my car and use that money for other things.
  • I don’t have to try and find a parking spot. In this area, that’s a big deal.
  • I never get stuck in traffic. I walk right past all the people who are backed up in traffic.
  • I just walk out the door and I’m on my way and never have to worry about a car that’s broken down or not working properly.
  • I’m not polluting the environment.
  • I get to be outside in nature, get more sunlight (and that valuable Vitamin D), and enjoy Mother Earth more.
  • I have slowed down and experience less stress.

Are there any negatives to not owning a car?

  • If you live in a spread-out urban area (like Austin) that doesn’t have good public transportation, not having a car is surely a real challenge.
  • I haven’t shopped at Costco during the whole year (and I really miss it). I just can’t carry enough at a time to make it worth the 2.3 mile walk each way to Costco.
  • Sometimes during the rainy season (which we’re in now) when it’s also cold, windy, and the rain has been pelting for days, I wish I could travel in a car.
  • It may take more time to walk somewhere than to ride in a car (depending on traffic). I have to allow the time to walk somewhere when planning on going somewhere.
  • I can’t give anyone a ride anywhere (maybe that’s a positive!).
  • I can’t transport really large items. If I must have them, I order them online.
  • I don’t go places at night as much as I used to.
  • I don’t venture out to other areas as much as I would if I owned a car.

When I look at the two lists, in sheer numbers there are almost as many negatives as positives, but the positives are a lot more important to me than the negatives. The thing I’ve gotten from going carless for a year is a real sense of freedom. Owning a car is EXPENSIVE and a HASSLE. Walking is CHEAP and EASY plus it has the added benefit of improving your health and fitness.

Will I always be without a car? Not if I move to an area less friendly and accessible to walking than Berkeley and Albany. But for right now, I’m enjoying this freedom of being carless. Try it…you might like it!

7/20/11 NOTE: Of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., San Francisco is now ranked the 2nd most walkable behind New York. Check out the scores at http://www.walkscore.com/rankings. Oakland, which is in the East Bay (where I live) is ranked the 10th most walkable large city. And Austin? My former home town? It is ranked the 31st most walkable large city and scores 91 out of 100. That might be true if you live downtown. Albany, CA, where I live now has a walkable score of 95 out of 100 and is called a “walker’s paradise.” I’d have to agree!

7/21/11 NOTE: Thanks to WordPress for putting this post on the front page! I am loving reading all the comments that you are leaving about your experiences of going carless…or desires to. After 19 months without a car, I’m still loving being carless…at least most of the time!

6/21/13 NOTE: I am still carless…now for 3.5 years…and still loving it!





Multigenerational Connectedness

29 12 2010

We’re all one, right? Brothers and sisters, connected souls, timeless, pure energy, love, and light. So how many of us actually spend time with people outside our age group…give or take 20 years or so? And why don’t we? Is it because it’s uncomfortable? Inconvenient? We feel we have nothing in common with people so outside our age range? How can we truly feel the connectedness with all others if we shun or exclude people much younger or much older than ourselves?

I had the pleasure of spending Christmas with four generations…my 16-month-old grandson, both my daughters (and one son-in-law), my sister and her husband, and my mother and her husband. The age span from youngest to oldest was 83 years. What did I observe and take away from my interactions with each generation in addition to lots of love and gratitude for being together?

  • My 16-month-old grandson – Instant smiles when he sees me, spontaneity, lots of hugs and kisses, fun, big faces that indicate delight, play, playfulness, and sheer joy
  • My two daughters – Pride in making their way in the world so well, joy in watching one be a mother, seriousness about life and drive, self-confidence, kindness, an adult-to-adult relationship, hugs, and smiles
  • My sister – Giggles, ease, familiarity, shared family history, remembering, delight, hugs, consideration, laughing at ourselves, and fun
  • My mother – Comfort, hugs, tears, understanding, patience, honoring, helping, taking time, being cared for, being girlish and playful with friends, and shared family history

Credit: Edanley on Flickr

In being with family from each generation, I got to connect with that child, young woman, middle-aged woman, and aging woman inside me and feel the delights and challenges of each age. I could be silly with my grandson and be totally spontaneous in the moment. I could talk with my daughters about their careers and remember when I was that age and so driven and I could recall how it felt to be a young mother. I could feel a real connection with my sister, who is also experiencing the fears and humor of aging and the delights and wisdom from a life lived so far. And I could be understanding toward and appreciative of my mother, who is slowing down, and delight in watching her giggle and chat with her friends around the table in the dining room of her retirement community.

There is much to be gained by stepping outside our comfort zones and being with people of all ages. I’m grateful for all of these relationships; they all help me to honor the many ages within me and within others. Spending time with others of varying ages reminds us that we are all timeless and are connected through our joy, love, kindness, consideration, acceptance, understanding, and being.





It’s OK to Beat Your Wife or Children in UAE – Just Don’t Leave a Mark

26 10 2010

The highest judicial body in the United Arab Emirates, which has the seventh largest oil reserves in the world, borders on Saudi Arabia, and includes Dubai, says it’s okay to beat your wife and young children…just don’t leave a mark. Here’s the short article about it from the Huffington Post:

Dubai in the UAE - Credit: Neil Emmerson/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE’s highest judicial body says a man can beat his wife and young children as long as the beating leaves no physical marks.

The decision by the Federal Supreme Court shows the strong influence of Islamic law in the Emirates despite its international appeal in which foreign residents greatly outnumber the local population.

The court made the ruling earlier this month in the case of a man who left cuts and bruises on his wife and adult daughter after a beating.

It says the man was guilty of harming the women but noted that Islamic codes allow for “discipline” if no marks are left. It also says children who have reached “adulthood” – approximately puberty – cannot be struck.

The ruling was reported Monday in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National.

You’re probably feeling outraged, right? Of course. We live in a “civilized” society and can’t imagine our Supreme Court saying it’s okay for men to beat their wives and children as long as no physical mark is left on them. It is outrageous. Men are allowed to treat women and children in the UAE and in so many countries in the world however they please and women have few rights. And this is a RELIGION saying it is okay to “discipline” them if you don’t leave marks. Is this really the way that God wants women and children to be treated?

We can sit here in moral outrage because this is Islam and somewhere far away, but these things happen right here in the United States and are sanctioned by Christianity (remember the verse about spare the rod, spoil the child?). I wrote a post called Kids in School: Getting an Education Plus a Beating about how school children in the United States are beaten with barbaric looking paddles in schools…and often for things as benign as being late to class or chewing gum. Corporal punishment of children by parents has been banned in 29 countries, including 22 in Europe, but is still legal in all 50 states in the United States. In our country, if a child has physical marks from being beaten and someone alerts social services, the parents may suffer some consequences, but if the parents are able to cover it up, they may get away with it.

So are we any better than the United Arab Emirates? We still legally condone children being beaten in schools in 21 states and at home in all 50 states and often these beatings leave horrible marks (even from school beatings) and cause children to be aggressive and to have psychological problems. This is legally-condoned assault on children. We have a culture where people are becoming more aware of the horrors that women suffer when they are beaten by husbands or boyfriends, but still men crack jokes about “slapping her around” to friends.

When will women and children in the United States and around the world really be treated equally? Why aren’t they now? Men overwhelmingly make and enforce laws in our country and in other countries. We need more men to stand for and with women and children and protect them. No schoolteacher, husband, boyfriend, father, or any man has a right to hit a child or woman. Women and children don’t need to be “disciplined” through hitting; they need to be loved.





Could You Survive the Worst Thing Imaginable?

25 10 2010

Emma, Katie, and Kyle Coble - Credit: Chriscoble.com

Imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. The worst did happen to Lori and Chris (her husband)  who were on today’s Oprah show. A truck driver coming around a blind curve on a freeway slammed into the back of Lori’s car, which was stopped in traffic on the freeway.

Lori was in the car with her mother and her three children…Kyle aged 5, Emma aged 4, and Katie, aged 2. All three children were killed in that crash and Lori and her mother survived.

Somehow…with the support of family and friends and by making a pact with each other to not kill themselves and instead to help each other out…Lori and Chris got through it and decided 3 months later they wanted to have another child. One year after the tragedy, they had triplets…two girls and a boy! The children are now 2 1/2 and they brought them out…adorable. They said there is joy in their home again, but they still grieve the loss of the first two girls and boy. Amazingly, they forgave the truck driver, who is also the father of young children.

The story has several lessons:

  • That you can survive even the worst thing imaginable.
  • That supporting each other through tough times is important. The couple immediately went to counseling and learned to tell each other what they were feeling. You could tell that they are very close to each other and loving.
  • That miracles do happen. They had triplets who were the same sex as the three children they lost.
  • To hold your loved ones close and appreciate them and realize what a gift every day with them is.
  • That family and friends are invaluable and can love you and support you through whatever you are going through.

The couple has demonstrated unbelievable courage as has Lori’s mother, who was also featured and is also a survivor of the car crash. She of course has grieved not only for the loss of her grandchildren, but every day did all she could to help her daughter and son-in-law get through this unbelievable tragedy.

So when you’re having a bad day, as we all do, think of all you have to be grateful for and hold those you love and who love you tight…both figuratively and in reality. We’re all here to help each other out and in the end, having that love and support is what matters.

P.S. I originally wrote this (with some additions, which I didn’t share here) as an email to one of my daughters. This story touched me so much, I wanted to share it more broadly.





A 16-Year-Old Sexual Abuse Victim…and Now a Murderer

19 10 2010

The clean-cut, all-American looking 16-year-old talking to Oprah on yesterday’s show killed a man on January 22, 2010. Daniel Kovarbasich said he “snapped” after being molested for over 3 years by 56-year-old Duane Hurley and he stabbed him 55 times. He’s serving 5 years probation and sitting in prison until he can get proper counseling; a judge let him out to be on the Oprah show to send a message to other children and families.

In this case…as in most…Daniel was sexually abused by someone he knew…a family friend. He was first approached by Duane when he was just 12 and Duane offered to pay him to help him take care of his dog. Daniel’s parents took precautions: they looked up Duane’s name online to see if he was listed as a sex offender (he wasn’t) and they went with Daniel to Duane’s house each time for an entire year.

Daniel Kovarbasich

Duane not only groomed Daniel, but he groomed the whole family and let them do odd jobs in exchange for much needed money or he’d buy them needed household items. They all thought that Duane was a great guy, began to trust him, and even considered him a friend who was welcome in their home; finally the parents started letting Daniel go over to Duane’s house alone.

The grooming progressed when Daniel wanted to drive Duane’s sedan and Duane told Daniel he’d have to show him his penis. When Daniel wanted to drive Duane’s corvette, Duane said “bigger toys, bigger things” and insisted that Daniel let him touch his penis. The grooming continued and the abuse escalated to anal sex. Daniel hated it, but was afraid to tell his parents due to the shame he felt. He also couldn’t get away from Duane, who would track him down if he didn’t come over.

All this time, Daniel had a girlfriend and wanted to plan something special for their one year anniversary of dating. Duane asked him how much money he needed for that and Daniel said $80. Duane let him know that would cost him; i.e., he’d have to have sex with Duane. That was when Daniel snapped.

There were several messages this family…which also included Daniel’s older brother wanted to convey:

  1. If a child’s behavior changes, something could be terribly wrong. Daniel’s brother noticed that Daniel was acting totally out of character…smoking, acting out, etc.
  2. It is usually a “friend” or relative that abuses a child. They are able to win the child’s and his/her parent’s trust and gain access to the child. Daniel’s parents were shocked that this man won their trust, was their “friend,” and all the while was sexually abusing their son.
  3. Smart child abusers groom children. They win the child’s confidence…and that of their parents…over time. They will do things like offer the child special things the parents wouldn’t…like alcohol or driving a car when the child (as in Daniel’s case) doesn’t have a license. This is a red flag.
  4. Daniel urged children who might now be in a situation like he was in to TELL SOMEONE. The abuse will only progress…it doesn’t get less shameful. Get some help. Get out. TELL.

Oprah is herself a survivor of multiple instances of childhood sexual abuse. I applaud her for continuing to get the story out and to hammer home the fact that it is usually someone the child knows who abuses them.

This is a tragic story…as are all stories about sexual abuse. It all started with the selfish, narcissistic actions of a man who didn’t care what the consequences of his actions were. His actions did have consequences and one of them was that he lost his life. An innocent boy was traumatized and made to perform sexual acts for over three years by a child molester he thought was his friend and his family’s friend. That innocent boy became a murderer because of the abuse and a secret he felt was too shameful to tell. The whole family is suffering and their entire lives will be forevermore impacted.

If you are being sexually abused now or have been in the past, but have never admitted it, tell someone. Get help. Don’t suffer in silence and risk having the abuse continue or your reaction to it spiral out of control. It isn’t and wasn’t your fault and you are not the one who bears the shame. That belongs only to the person who committed the abuse.





The Power of a Mother’s Kangaroo Love

3 09 2010

Twenty minutes after twin Jamie Ogg was born prematurely at 27 weeks into his mom Kate’s pregnancy, he was pronounced dead when doctors could not get him to breathe. He was placed across Kate’s bare chest and she held him to her skin while she and husband David spoke to him about his sister Emily and the hopes and dreams they had for him.

David and Kate Ogg with their twins on the Today Show - Credit Today Show website

Kate (who is from Australia along with her husband) continued practicing kangaroo love, where the holding of an infant with their skin next to the mother’s or father’s generates heat and bonding for the baby like he received in the womb…or like a baby kangaroo receives in its mother’s pouch.

After five minutes, they began to notice Jamie move, but the doctor said it was just a bodily reflex. This continued for two hours of the parents holding the baby next to their bare chests and talking gently and lovingly to him. They kept trying to get the doctor to come back in the room and see the baby moving, but the doctor kept insisting the baby was dead. Finally, the doctor consented and was shocked to see the baby alive.

The Today Show featured this family and their story today and I burst into tears upon hearing this story. The babies are now five months old and both are healthy and doing well.

The Today Show’s website quoted Dr. Lisa Eiland of the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, who said this seeming miracle may be well grounded in science:

What’s important is the warmth that the mother provides and the stimulation that the baby may have received from hearing the mother’s heartbeat. So those are all things that may have helped the baby in terms of going down the path to living as opposed to the path of death.

My own daughter used this practice with her one-day-old son when he was taken to the ICU after a difficult start. This story and that of my own daughter and grandson are powerful reminders that love…especially that of a mother…can be so powerful to even save a life and how important love, nurturing, and human touch are for our very survival.





Life at a Fast Toddle

31 08 2010

Aren’t toddlers fun to watch? My grandson Sebastian recently turned one. I have so much fun watching him toddle back and forth at his house, mine, the library, the park, wherever. Although his steps may be a bit wobbly, he doesn’t judge himself, hold back, or act fearful because he’s not a perfect walker. He “runs” with abandon, not worrying about whether he is going to fall or run into anything or step on anything. He just does it because he can. He is gleeful and often laughs or scrunches up his face in a delightful look that says “I’m having so much fun!” And he loves having something to carry as he toddles…a basket, a cake pan, a ball, a wooden puzzle piece…just about anything will work. It’s just the act of carrying while walking that is just so cool!

He was at my house several hours yesterday and today while his momma is at a conference and observing and being with him awakens so much in me. I am completely present with him just as I was with his momma and her sister when they were young. I sit on the floor and play with him, dance as he’s dancing, and sit in the sandbox at the park while he scoops sand and watches it fall through his fingers. His attention moves from one thing to another at mind boggling speed, but for the time he’s doing something, he’s completely focused on it.

Sebastian doesn’t fret about where his next meal is coming from or what it’s going to be. He just eats when he’s hungry and says “Nah!” or throws it when he isn’t…sounds fun, doesn’t it? He has no idea when or if he’s going to be taken on a plane, to the park, the grocery store, out for a stroller ride, on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to go downtown San Francisco, to babygym, or to see Oma (that’s me…German for “grandmother”). Everything is fun and he just rolls with it.

And oh…the dancing. A toddler isn’t self conscious and doesn’t wonder if he looks stupid when he dances. He just does it. When I turn on the Raffi CD or he hears something with a catchy beat, he just starts bouncing up and down, twirling, moving his shoulders, and getting his groove on. He can’t help himself…the boy has to dance.

At 12 months, he doesn’t have life experiences, societal influences, and the developmental “maturity” that can contribute to feeling hatred, anger, disgust, sadness, disappointment, resentment, worry, shame, or any other negative emotion. Life is all about possibility, learning, new experiences, wonder, discovery, delight, laughter, smiling, having fun, hugs and kisses, and toddling at full bore.

The more I observe Sebastian, the more I think he has it right. We can be a lot more present to the joys of life by practicing living life at a fast toddle.





Already Home

9 08 2010

Financial uncertainty, a physical move to an unfamiliar area or to a new house, a health crisis, a divorce or relationship breakup, middle age, and a death can all create a longing for home…a sense of belonging, of the familiar, of claiming a place that is ours, of feeling comforted and comfortable, of feeling safe, and a place we can truly be ourselves.

Barbara Gates - Credit: BarbaraGates.com

This is what Barbara Gates, author of the exquisite book Already Home: A Topography of Spirit and Place, writes about. She struggles to understand her new home in Berkeley, California after a move from New York and to understand the body she calls home as she goes through treatments for breast cancer and strives to live while being mother to a five-year-old daughter and wife to her lawyer husband.

Barbara does extensive research on the house she and her husband remodel limb by limb and on the colorful Ocean View neighborhood she lives in. She wants to know who lived there before she and her neighbors did and what home was like for those people. At first the search is about the physicality of the place, but “home” and “inhabit” take on much bigger…and yet much simpler…meaning.

In an interview with Shambhala Publications, Barbara is asked about finding home right we are and she replies:

Already Home tells a story of neighborliness, about finding connection — with one’s family, oneself, and the folks next door, with whatever presents itself, no matter how off-putting or surprising. I find connection with a homeless woman who sleeps in our family car, a rat in our refrigerator, the bay, trees and streets, and, learning the vast history of my home place, with generations of neighborhood ancestors. In contrast to our global ethic of opposition and reprisal, Already Home offers a much-needed taste of underlying commonality grounded in a sense of home, always available right here and now.

In that same interview, Barbara (who is a Buddhist) talks of interviewing Buddhist monks, who call themselves the “Homeless Ones” because they leave behind their homes. Barbara tells of how that homelessness showed her a different meaning of home:

I was reminded that a house is not a home. No house of bricks or boards could offer me the enduring safety and sustenance I yearned for.  As I became intimate with the place where I lived and settled more fully into a wide sense of myself, I began to glimpse an inner sense of home. No matter who we are, through a shift in perception, we can see it.  We are already home.

In reading this book, I connect with Barbara’s search for home. I, too, recently left behind an area (Austin, Texas), which I had called home for 20 years, to move to the Berkeley area to live near my daughter, son-in-law, and almost one-year-old grandson. This area is so different from my birth home area of east Tennessee and my adopted home area of central Texas. It is much cooler here, the yards are lush with flowers and greenery, and the homes are

A Berkeley Home - Credit: Trip Advisor Website

charming. People I pass on the streets often say “Isn’t it beautiful here? I feel so lucky to live here.” There is a relaxation, comfort, and sense of gratitude that comes with these perfect temperatures and beauty every where you look. If you walk up into the Berkeley hills, you get gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay.

Almost anywhere you can hear the whoosh of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains zipping through the community and offering easy transportation to most anywhere you’d like to go. I sold my car before I moved out here and walk or take the BART (or the occasional bus) everywhere and the worries and expense of gas, car payments, car repairs, car insurance, parking, and traffic are gone for me.

Besides a freedom and sense of adventure in getting around, home takes on additional new meaning for me here. It is being a grandmother who gets to really be a part of my grandson’s life. It is being able to walk over to my daughter’s home after yoga at the YMCA or to the local farmer’s market with her and to have conversations in person that used to be months apart. It is cool air blowing through open windows in the summer and walks at any time of day and never breaking a sweat. It is exploring downtown San Francisco and new neighborhoods…each with their own charm. Home here is a scaling down of things and an expansion of sensual delight, new experiences, and sense of awe and possibility.

I’ve moved enough times in my life to not feel an attachment to any one building as “home”. Instead, I am developing the sense of home that noted Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of (and Barbara Gates quotes in her book):

In East Asia, we speak of the human body as a mini-cosmos. The cosmos is our home, and we can touch it by being aware of our body. Meditation is to be still: to sit still, to stand still, and to walk with stillness. Meditation means to look deeply, to touch deeply so we can realize we are already home.

I did a slow, walking meditation through the Berkeley hills this morning and connected with all the outward beauty I saw. The beauty inside me, which has always been, yearns for deep recognition and reconnection. It is that place that calls out to me and reminds me that I am already home…no matter where I go.





A Holocaust Survivor and a Kenyan Boy

20 07 2010

Director Jennifer Arnold, Chris Mburu, Hilde Back, Jane Wanjiru Muigai during the Sundance Film Festival - Credit: Matt Carr, Getty Images

For Chris Mburu, a young, rural Kenyan student, the opportunity to make something out of his life would’ve ended if not for a small act of kindness.

Hilde Back was a young girl and a Jew who was helped by a stranger to escape from Nazi Germany to Sweden. She never saw her parents (who did not survive the Holocaust) again after leaving. She never forgot the kindness of that stranger and of the people who helped her once she got to Sweden. Hilde eventually became a school teacher on a modest salary, but sponsored…for about $15 a month…a young Kenyan student.

Because she paid his fees to go to secondary school, which his parents could not afford, that student…Chris Mburu…went on to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and become a human rights lawyer for the United Nations. Inspired by Hilde’s generosity, in 2001 he decided to start a scholarship program to help other bright Kenyan students who can’t afford school fees and to name the scholarship program after her. With help, he tracked Hilde Back down and the two are now fast friends. She never knew that her small gift each month made such a difference in the life of one boy…and is now making a difference in the lives of countless other children.

Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline - Credit: http://asmallact.blogspot.com/

HBO is now airing an incredibly moving and important documentary film entitled A Small Act about this story and “the ripple effect one small act can have.” The world premiere of the movie was in January 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival. Jennifer Arnold wrote, directed, and produced this film.

It features three students…Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline…who are the top students in their school and who all have no hope of progressing in school due to the lack of ability to pay the $40 per month fees unless they get one of the coveted Hilde Back Education Fund scholarships.

I mostly subscribe to  HBO because of their documentaries. They are thoughtful, well done, and carry powerful messages. The message is easy to see in this one. So many of us think we don’t have the ability to make a difference in the life of another person so why bother? We may think we are barely scraping by ourselves and what little we could give just isn’t enough. This story shows that a small donation made monthly totally changed the life of Chris, who has gone on to change the lives of Kimani, Ruth, Caroline and so many more and they have all pledged to change the lives of students who come after them.

A few other ripple effects and how you can learn more:

Watch the trailer for the movie, and if you have HBO or if the film is being screened near you, watch the entire film. It will move you…hopefully to make your own small act.





Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani: Falsely Accused, Flogged, Sentenced to Death by Stoning

7 07 2010

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, 42-year-old Iranian mother of two, has exasperated all legal steps to avoid being stoned any day now. She was convicted in May 2006 of having an “illicit relationship outside marriage” and received 99 lashes for that “crime,” which her son Sajjad, 22, and daughter Farideh, 17, say she did not do. Her son, who was 17 at the time, was present at her flogging and says “They lashed her just in front my eyes, this has been carved in my mind since then.”

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani - Credit: Huffington Post

Why is she now to be stoned?  The Guardian reports that:

Sakineh already endured a sentence of 99 lashes, but her case was re-opened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but the adultery charge was reviewed and a death penalty handed down on the basis of “judge’s knowledge” – a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

The Guardian goes on to report that:

Mohammed Mostafaei, an acclaimed Iranian lawyer volunteered to represent her when her sentence was announced a few months ago. He wrote a public letter about her conviction shortly after. “This is an absolutely illegal sentence,” he said. “Two of five judges who investigated Sakineh’s case in Tabriz prison concluded that there’s no forensic evidence of adultery.

Men who commit adultery often do not receive the same punishment as women do in Islamic countries. CNN.com reports that:

Human rights activists have been pushing the Islamic government to abolish stoning, arguing that women are not treated equally before the law in Iran and are especially vulnerable in the judicial system. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man, they say.

Article 74 of the Iranian penal code requires at least four witnesses — four men or three men and two women — for an adulterer to receive a stoning sentence, said Ahadi, of the International Committee Against Stoning. But there were no witnesses in Ashtiani’s case. Often, said Ahadi, husbands turn wives in to get out of a marriage.

Sakineh is to be stoned to death because the judge has supposed “knowledge” of her having had sex with someone who was not her husband…something she says she did not do and for which she has already been punished. Around 40 to 50 other women are awaiting the same fate in Iran right now.

Her children…helped by Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty…are waging an international battle to get support to hopefully reverse the judge’s decision, which is their only hope to spare their mother’s life. They have written the following letter:

Today we stretch out our hands to the people of the whole world. It is now five years that we have lived in fear and in horror, deprived of motherly love. Is the world so cruel that it can watch this catastrophe and do nothing about it?

We are Sakine Mohammadi e Ashtiani’s children, Farideh and Sajjad Mohamamadi e Ashtiani. Since our childhood we have been acquainted with the pain of knowing that our mother is imprisoned and awaiting a catastrophe. To tell the truth, the term “stoning” is so horrific that we try never to use it. We instead say our mother is in danger, she might be killed, and she deserves everyone’s help.

Today, when nearly all options have reached dead-ends, and our mother’s lawyer says that she is in a dangerous situation, we resort to you. We resort to the people of the world, no matter who you are and where in the world you live. We resort to you, people of Iran, all of you who have experienced the pain and anguish of the horror of losing a loved one.

Please help our mother return home!

We especially stretch our hand out to the Iranians living abroad. Help to prevent this nightmare from becoming reality. Save our mother. We are unable to explain the anguish of every moment, every second of our lives. Words are unable to articulate our fear…

Help to save our mother. Write to and ask officials to free her. Tell them that she doesn’t have a civil complainant and has not done any wrong. Our mother should not be killed. Is there any one hearing this and rushing to our assistance?

Farideh and Sajjad Mohammadi e Ashtiani

What happens if Sakineh is stoned? She will be buried in the ground up to her chest. Carefully chosen stones…not too big to make death come too soon and not too small to prolong the process…will be thrown at her head and face until she dies. The public is not going to be allowed to witness this for fear of a backlash. In Somalia, 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, met a similar fate. She was accused of adultery and stoned to death after she reported having been gang raped. I wrote about this horrific case in an 11/13/08 blog post. I wrote another post about someone being stoned for having married sex and you can read it here.

This is not justice. This is a case of a government misusing supposed religious laws to instill fear in the people in order to control them. Imagine being stoned to death for being falsely accused of having sex with someone who was not your husband. We should all be outraged.

If you are and want to get involved, here are two ways you can:

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Sakineh-Mohammadi-Ashtiani-from-being-Stoned-to-Death-in-Iran/123908540984923?ref=ts&v=wall

Sign a petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-sakineh-mohammadi.html

Update 7/9/10 from The Guardian:

Iran has imposed a media blackout over the case of a 43-year-old mother of two who was sentenced to be stoned to death and whose fate is still unclear despite an apparent “reprieve.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is still facing execution by hanging after being convicted of adultery, her son told the Guardian today.

Newspapers, agencies and TV channels in Iran have been banned from reporting Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence, despite an international campaign launched by her children, which has been joined by politicians and celebrities from all over the world.

The campaign, first highlighted by the Guardian last week, has failed to stop the Iranian authorities from pressing ahead.

Last night the Iranian embassy in London issued an opaque statement saying that Mohammadi Ashtiani would not be stoned to death. “According to information from the relevant judicial authorities in Iran, she will not be executed by stoning punishment,” it said.

The statement was not reported inside Iran and neither was the news of stoning death sentences for 15 other Iranians.

UPDATE 7/21/10: The Iranian Supreme Court was to have issued a statement today about Ms. Ashtiani’s case. I read on today’s blog of Maryam Namazie, who is a spokesperson for Iran Solidarity amongst other groups, that Iran’s Supreme Court decision has been postponed for 20 days. There is incredible international pressure for her not to be executed. July 24, 2010 has been proclaimed an international day in support of Ms. Ashtiani and rallies are being held all over the world.

The Guardian reports in its 7/22 issue that:

Last week, Iran imposed a media blackout over Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence, banning newspapers, agencies and TV Channels in Iran from reporting any news about her case.

It also reports that her children are being told to stay silent or face arrest and mentions the http://freesakineh.org website, where signatures for her release are being collected.

UPDATE 8/5/10: This from CNN.com blog is very sad news indeed:

A second attorney representing an Iranian woman whose death by stoning sentence was under review told a human rights activist Thursday that Iranian authorities have decided she will be executed.

Mina Ahadi, spokeswoman for the International Committee against Stoning, said she had spoken to Hotan Kian, an attorney who attended a court session in Tehran Wednesday. He was informed that there would be no more appeals for his client, Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani, and that Iran’s high court will decide within a week whether she will be stoned or be executed in another way.

UPDATE 8/11/10: This was posted today on the Facebook page in support of Ms. Ashtiani:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, was FORCED by the Regime in Iran to speak against herself, Mostafaei (her lawyer) and the Campaign on Iran state TV. Her lawyer said that she was tortured before interview recorded in Tabriz prison, and fears imminent execution. (Guardian)

UPDATE 8/15/10: This is from CNN’s website:

(CNN) — An Iranian court has delayed the final verdict of a 43-year-old woman sentenced to death by stoning, a human rights group said Sunday, two days after the country announced she will not be executed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The International Committee Against Stoning did not say how it got its information on the postponement of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s final verdict, which had previously been scheduled to come down last Thursday. The group said in a statement that the final verdict in Ashtiani’s case is now expected on August 21, the date of her lawyer’s next court appearance.

UPDATE 8/30/10: This is a press release issued on 8/29 by the International Committee Against Stoning and the International Committee Against Execution:

On the 28th of August, in connection with the global protests against stoning and the death penalty that took place in at least 111 cities around the world, the authorities of Tabriz prison informed Sakineh that she would be executed on the 29th of August at dawn. She was told that she could write her will if she wished to do so. Sakineh started to cry and wrote her will. She waited for her execution the whole night. She waited for the guards to take her to the place of execution. Sakineh’s friends in prison showed her their deep grief and tried to comfort and calm her. However, until this hour, noon on August 29th, there has been no news concerning the completion of this death sentence. It seems that the Islamic Republic, while under immense international pressure, wanted to give the impression that it would not bow to world public opinion.

The International Committee against Stoning and the International Committee against Execution strongly condemn such heinous and criminal behavior of the Islamic regime towards prisoners sentenced to death. This [mock preparation for execution] is an indicator of the lack of detainees’ human rights. Over the years, the regime has threatened prisoners with execution sentences in order to intimidate and torture them mentally. Azar Bagheri is a young girl who has been in jail for four years, awaiting execution by stoning. She was 15 years old when she was convicted of adultery. She has been subjected to mock stonings twice [wrapped in a shroud and buried in preparation to be stoned, then released]. The dimensions of this regime’s atrocities have no limits. Opposition by Iranian people and people worldwide is the only way to push back this regime and finally free the Iranian people and all of humanity from this Islamic regime.

The International Committee against Stoning and the International Committee against Execution will continue the campaign to save Sakineh and other prisoners sentenced to execution and stoning. From here, we encourage the world to participate actively in this struggle.

UPDATE 9/3/10: An incredibly moving interview was conducted by Bernard-Henry Levy, a French philosopher and writer with Sakineh’s 22-year-old son Sajjad, who is leading the efforts to save his mother. His mother is accused of complicity in murdering his father and he says it is a “blatant lie.” The interview is posted on Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bernardhenri-levy/interview-with-sajjad_b_704311.html. Also, Sakineh has been sentenced to another 99 lashes for (and I see two causes quoted) “spreading corruption and indecency” or allowing her cause to be taken to the press.

UPDATE 9/8/10: CNN reports that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told state-run Press TV on Wednesday:

The sentencing of Ms. Ashtiani for adultery has been stopped and (her case) is being reviewed again, and her sentencing for complicity in murder is in process.

UPDATE 11/2/10: Sakineh’s son has been arrested, detained, and tortured. The go-ahead has been given to execute Sakineh on 11/3. Heartbreaking. Read about it here.

UPDATE 12/9/10: It was reported that Sakineh was released today. Iranian TV showed clips of her at home with her son. There is some question whether this was done by Iran just for appearances to try and quell the international human rights outcry over Sakineh’s case. Supporters are cautiously optimistic that she truly has been released. You can read about it in the online version of the UK’s Guardian here. The latest is that Iran is now denying that she was released.

UPDATE 1/17/11: This is from Reuters. You can read the full article here.

Iran has suspended a sentence to hang a woman [Sakineh] at the center of a global outcry about a separate stoning sentence, a member of parliament was quoted Monday as saying, but another official suggested the comments were false.





A 40th High School Reunion in Maryville, Tennessee

18 06 2010

There’s nothing like 40 years to give you some perspective. I attended the 40th high school reunion of  the Maryville High School class of 1970 on 6/11/10 in Maryville, Tennessee. Over a third of our class showed up along with some spouses and partners. About 8% of our class members are dead…something that seems inconceivable to me. What was their path…and that of their family and friends…that it included a life cut short? Death is an equalizer, showing no favor to the popular classmates who have passed on.

For those us still kicking it, for the most part, our personalities really haven’t changed all that much. The outgoing ones are still outgoing, the quiet ones are still quiet, and the nerdy ones are still nerdy. Not only is death an equalizer, so is aging. It’s fascinating to see how people age differently.

Overall, we look pretty good, but if you look closely, you see a few more wrinkles on some faces. You don’t have to look closely to see the extra pounds that many of us (myself included) now carry. One guy and one gal from the class who are on Facebook have…since the reunion…listed the “Hotties” and it feels like we’re in high school all over again.

There were a few surprises like how many people have never had children or have never been married. A few people are gay…something that wasn’t on my radar at all in high school. At least half of those in attendance still live in the area. Some lived other places, but came back. It is a charming town, so this is understandable.

People were upbeat and I didn’t really hear stories of tragedy and suffering and turmoil unless I knew about them and asked. At our age, I’m sure most people have experienced many ups and downs. One of our classmates dropped dead of a brain aneurysm 11 years ago and his wife…also one of our classmates…talked of the rough road she’d had in raising their children alone afterward.

I heard some talk of careers, but mostly there was talk of children and grandchildren and where you’ve lived and wow, it’s great to see you. After 40 years, the conversations distilled down to what is really important in our lives. We also reminisced about painting the bridge red and black before rival football games with Alcoa High and how tough our English teacher Ms. Miller (whose daughter was one of our classmates and was there) was…and how grateful we were when we went to college.

My Senior High School Photo

What’s really neat is that our spirits are ageless. We may be 57 or 58 years old, but we’re still giggly and fun-loving and witty and engaging and curious. If I closed my eyes…or simply looked past the extra pounds and wrinkles and hair dye…I saw those same classmates who I knew and loved in high school.

A 40th high school reunion is not only a reunion with classmates, but also with the self you were all those years ago. I could instantly erase 40 years of living and step back to being that girl who was living life to the fullest and had the whole world ahead of her. Maybe I’ll decide to stay 17 and continue to see a world of opportunity available to me. Maryville, Maryville High, my family, and those classmates instilled in me that sense of possibility…and I’ll forever be that girl.





100,000!!!

24 03 2010

My blog surpassed 100,000 hits today. It’s a big number. What other things are 100,000?

  • Wikipedia says 100,000“…is the current world record for the number of digits of pi memorized by a human being.”
  • On 11/4/09, Apple announced that there were over 100,000 applications available on the App Store.
  • In July 2005, there were 241 American cities with populations over 100,000 per infoplease.com. 62 of those are in California.
  • The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics was stocked with 100,000 condoms…an average of 14 condoms for each of the 7,000 athletes.
  • The 100,000th 2010 Chevrolet Camaro…an inferno orange SS according to Autoblog.com…rolled off the assembly line the first week in March, 2010.
  • In August 2008, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope completed its 100,000th orbit during its 18th year of being in service.
  • The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) has an initiative called The 100,000 Lives Campaign “…to significantly reduce morbidity and mortality in American health care” and to save 100,000 lives.
  • According to wordstadiums.com, there are 45 stadiums throughout the world that seat 100,000 or more people. 17 of those are in the U.S. Of those 17, speed racing makes up 11, one is used for horse racing (Churchill Downs), and the others are college football stadiums (Texas, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and Tennessee).
  • Scientific American reported in December 2009 that humans have been eating grains for at least 100,000 years.
  • The weekend before the historic 3/21/10 House vote (and passage) of the healthcare bill, calls to House representatives were close to 100,000 per hour.
  • On 3/4/10, the Red Cross provided its 100,000th vaccination in Haiti to prevent disease following the 7.0 earthquake on January 12, 2010.

I’ve put a lot of time, energy, and care into writing this blog. Thanks to all my loyal readers and those who just stumbled on the page because they were searching for something they care about. I hope you’ll come back…and maybe even subscribe to my blog (see the flashing box at the top right of this page).

Here’s to 100,000 more reads and to all you good people who are reading! Keep the comments coming…I love the dialogue!





International Women’s Day: Have Women Made Any Progress?

8 03 2010

Yesterday I heard the second president (in 1970) of the National Organization of Women (NOW) Aileen Hernandez speak on “Women’s Human Rights: Turning Principles into Practice: An International Women’s Day Event” at University of California at Berkeley. Aileen is currently the chair of the California Women’s Agenda, a state action alliance of over 600 organizations. Yesterday…as part of today’s International Women’s Day commemoration and sponsored by the UN Association-East Bay…she led a group of activists through a discussion of the advances that women have made over the last three or so decades. Those include:

  • More choices of types of work are available to women now. Previously women primarily were employed as sales clerks, teachers, nurses, secretaries, or domestic workers.
  • Women and girls are more involved in athletics and play in team sports now.
  • Women have more choices about working vs. staying at home with children. This creates more choices for men, too, and more men are stay-at-home fathers, for instance.
  • Women are seen more often in higher level positions within companies.
  • Women represent higher percentages of those seeking upper education degrees.
  • Women have more choices about whether to marry or not and whether to have children or not. Previously it was assumed they would marry and would have children.
  • There’s more recognition that educating a girl or woman means that a whole family and whole community benefits.
  • Women have assumed leadership roles in government and other positions of power to greater degrees.

And yet, despite the advances for women, many things have not changed…or have not changed enough. Some examples:

  • The International Trade Union (ITUC)…which represents 176 million workers from 155 countries…reported on 3/8/10 that women with children still only earn 68% of what their male counterparts earn for the same job. Women overall earn 74% of what men earn for the same position. This study included information from over 40 countries across the world.
  • According to Causecast, which has been dubbed a “one stop philanthropy shop, “One in three women die or are seriously injured as a result of gender-based violence. Violence against women results in more deaths among women ages 15 to 44 than the total number of women who die because of war, malaria and cancer.” One woman in the talk yesterday said she felt that the attention to violence against women has been a plus, but in reality, all that attention has not lowered the prevalence of the violence. Causecast also reports that “One out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. An estimated 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to the police.”
  • Also per Causecast, an “estimated four million women and girls are bought and sold worldwide each year, either into marriage, prostitution or slavery.”
  • Another disturbing statistic from Causecast: “Approximately 96 million young women in developing countries still cannot read or write. Globally, girls account for 55 percent of children not in school.
  • And also from Causecast, “nearly 75% of those displaced by violent conflict are women. Displacement leaves women without access to health care, proper nutrition or education. Displaced women face a higher threat of gender-based terrorism and violence.”

You can read a lot more statistics about the state of women internationally today in my 2009 International Women’s Day post.

So have we achieved equal rights for women? No…far from it. Women and girls still bear the brunt of violence, lack of education, and lack the same privileges and pay as men…even in the United States. When will we…as human beings and the men throughout the world…the fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, grandfathers…begin to cherish and value women and girls and create opportunities, laws, and places in family and society that guarantee their safety and worth?









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